THE DEATH OF THE DINOSAURS

  Howard Saunders   Aug 31, 2016   Future, Retail, shopping, smartphone, Uncategorized   2 Comments

We awake to a dose of rotten retail results every morning, and it seems as if the high street (main street) has become one long, painful car crash that we’re watching in slow motion between fingers clasped against our foreheads. Bad results are usually followed by an interview with a cheery CEO who puts the ‘blip’ down to hot weather, cold weather, humidity, the Olympics, Brexit or Donald Trump. (Personally, I think it has to be Trump)

The CEO assures us that these figures were for the last quarter and already out of date, as this was way before they appointed the bright new CMO and launched the funky new range, which incidentally, is going down a storm with millennials.


Bullshit, and we all know it. News that Macy’s plans to close a hundred stores is just the start of it. The list of high street woes just gets longer by the day: Gap Inc, Debenhams, Walmart, Asda, Sears, Nordstrom, Marks & Spencer, JC Penney, Tesco, Morrison’s, Kroger, Target, Kohl’s…isn’t it bleedin’ obvious? We are witnessing the death of the dinosaurs. And while we’re on the subject of dinosaurs, I’d like to put in a good word for Philip Green. He didn’t kill BHS because it was moribund anyway. He just raped it.

Beneath the valiant attempts to brush off the hurricane as a gentle breeze, there’s the chatter as to the cause of retail’s problems being Amazon and those disinterested millennials, who’d rather spend money on experiences, whatever that means. But CEOs aren’t stupid. Just look behind the media smile. They know the ride is coming to an end. They’re simply doing what’s expected of them: positive spin and a brave face. They know they can’t blame Amazon. For all its monster power it actually has the same root problem as BHS: it stands for absolutely nothing. Amazon is fully aware this is its Achillies heel, but is too busy counting money to do much about it. Perhaps Amazon is partly to blame in the sense that it made retailers focus on price and ‘frictionless’ shopping, rather than making their stores nicer places to be.

It’s been eight years since the meteor hit planet earth, or since the financial crash, as it’s more commonly called, and we are only now starting to realise the long term consequences. The truth is, it changed everything: we are all millennials now; we all reach for the phone before our eyelids have properly parted in the morning, lest we missed a life changing Facebook post whilst unconscious. We’ve all become tired of the same old: the same old politics, the same old superhero movies, the same old brands on the high street. Is anyone really that surprised? Is there anyone out there who seriously enjoys the Walmart, Tesco or Sears experience anymore? We’re just bored with you all.

Meanwhile, the retail press on both sides of the Atlantic remains religiously obsessed with supermarkets and out of town sheds as if nothing has changed. They act like tin shed groupies, hanging around in the car park, at some godforsaken place, for a titbit of news. Usually something earth shattering like ‘Doberman’s profits down 15%’ As if anyone other than Mr Doberman gives a shit. Imagine the NME still filling its pages with Genesis and Yes stories week after week. Precisely.

The dinosaurs maybe dying but the planet is still teeming with life. We are at the beginning of a renaissance of street markets, ‘hipster’ food halls and the burgeoning rise of street food generally. There’s a slew of eager beaver entrepreneurs selling artisan everything that could do with a bit of positive press right now. Then there’s the satisfying surge of small, niche food producers; café culture has taken off like a rocket ship recently while bars and small batch breweries are absolutely revelling in their heyday. The lunch time food market is more lively and imaginative than it has ever been, and rich, clever brands such as Samsung, Nike, Adidas, Dyson, Lululemon and even Moleskine are inciting FOMO (fear of missing out…for all you who don’t reach for their phone first thing) with flagship stores that do so much more than just sell stuff.

There are also, I’m pleased to say, two great British dinosaurs that we can all learn from: Selfridges, maybe part of a dying breed but it will continue to thrive because when we spot its fluttering flags at the top of Oxford Street, like a cruise ship waiting for us to board, it lifts our spirits. Its commitment to an innovative and engaging calendar of events makes it our ‘day out’ in the centre of London.

And just down the road there’s John Lewis. Now John may be no party animal but he has spent the last 150 years building unrivalled trust with his customers. He brews a quiet, softly spoken form of FOMO, that is nonetheless just as powerful.

So, whilst most of the dinosaurs are beyond help there are ways to turn things around if they really want to and, I’m sorry to say, toying with a bit of omnichannel ain’t gonna cut it. Department stores and supermarkets need to give us reasons not just to go there, but to be there. Restaurants, bars, events, markets, launches, link-ups, competitions, festivals and exhibitions can ignite FOMO, drag us out and stop us staring at our phones for fifteen minutes. Let’s start with that.

About Howard Saunders

Howard has worked in retail design for over twenty five years. As a former Creative Director of Fitch, based in London, he was responsible for retail design and branding and for creating multi-disciplinary teams of architects, graphic designers, product designers and copywriters and making them work together! As an independent consultant Howard has worked closely with Marks & Spencer, Waitrose and Westfield, for over a decade, helping them develop new store designs and keeping them informed of the latest retail innovations and shifts in customer expectations. His work with Westfield, for example, culminated in the creation of the artisan Great Eastern Market at Westfield Stratford, Europe’s largest shopping centre, which opened in 2011 on London’s Olympic Park. Now based in New York, Howard’s current clients include CBRE, Claire’s Accessories, Consumer Goods Forum, Ebay, Johnson & Johnson, L’Occitane, Magento, Mothercare, Permira and Westfield World Trade Center. As an international speaker Howard’s talks are big, visual journeys across the world of retail. Provocative, challenging, brutally honest, evidence based and thoroughly entertaining.

2 Comments

  1. Gaby Says: September 2, 2016 1:05 am Reply

    Keep them coming, your insightful views are worthy of our time. “Frictionless shopping,” brilliant!

  2. William Says: September 6, 2016 2:16 pm Reply

    We’ve finally got edamame beans in Orkney so thanks, Tesco.

    I was in one of your Westfield shopping centres in the US not so long ago. Amazon had a pop-up stand right there in the middle. You could use their Kindles and compare prices with something you’d spotted in one of the shops and then order it, You could have it delivered to wherever, including to Amazon lockers in your local 7/11, presumably some of it on the same day. I will never forget this, it blew my mind but then I’m a bumpkin

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